Well. It’s been quite the week. I don’t know where to start, such is the utter daze that has wound its way around everything since the election results rang across the world like a bell intent on breaking your ears off the side of your face. It seems too big to tackle with my own words. Like figuring out how to scrub a whale with a tooth-brush. I am badly-tooled for the job.
Perhaps that means I’m in the wrong bloody job. Lots of other people have put aside their blue daze to form words about all this, about how we came to be here, about what might happen next, about what must be done to make changes from the inside. Those with political savvy who can take a clear line on it all having assimilated the stats and facts but I just feel a bit lost and like I have reached the outer limits of my noise. Like the year has extracted everything from me and I am empty, and might only automatically refill at the strike of midnight of 2017’s first day. It’s been a year. New home, new job, new writing, touring, new friends, a lot of work work work, change, unrest, exhaustion, a million questions about love and life, Brexit, Trump, this, whatever this is. Deeply deeply unsettled, the world a turbo carousel that I might get flung from. I know a lot of people feel the same. “My god, what an absolute bastard of a year.” I think I’ve just reached a sort of muteness. Like I can make hand gestures but can’t talk. But of course you’re not really permitted that when you write. You have to find some words.
And then Leonard Cohen died. And it was impossible not to see it as a sane man checking out of Earth before he could watch any more ugliness. It was hard not to think that if a poet who hardly shies from the dark matter of life feels like even he can’t bear any more, then we really are in trouble. That is over-dramatizing it I know. He was old and ill, dying wasn’t a choice, and if he’d had a choice I’m sure it would have been anything but leaving. He was a very much alive and still fruitful man. But the timing of it seemed so exquisitely pertinent. It could only have been a greater slight to the world if Cohen had actually been the American that people keep mistaking him for. Shunning your country by dying might have been a real statement, but the Canadians don’t really need a totemic gesture in the form of a dead legend to further express their separateness from the States. Cohen’s dying was just a chance of timing, one extraordinary man’s ordinary body reaching its inevitable end during a seismic world shift, nothing more, nothing less, but it socked itself further into the firescorch of our winded guts.
Leonard Cohen is one of the men who keeps my Dad alive for me. I’ve stowed bundled bits of my Dad into many things, though he did most of that himself just by living in the word and leaving traces. Most of the men who keep my dad alive are men of music. Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Cat Stevens, more. And Leonard Cohen.
He started as a thing of inherited dread for me. Mum can’t bear Cohen. “Whenever I hear bloody Leonard Cohen my blood runs cold.” For he was the music of choice when my Dad took to bed for days with a savagely demonstrated depression. He’d play it on loop , the low gravel grumbling around the house like a minor earthquake, the cracks from his bed splitting out to my helpless mother trying to reach a man who could not be reached. My little sister & I would’ve been there too, toddling about with our hands in jam & Cohen in our blithe unthinking ears. Cohen was the chosen voice of Dad’s darkness. The lyrics were a friend; the darkness didn’t judge him. I grew up thinking listening to Leonard Cohen was tantamount to climbing into a pond of voodoo treacle; like palapable actual visceral bad things could happen if you listened. But like all dark things he intrigued me. I somehow knew he was brilliant. I was drawn to him; he was marked by me as a young girl as a thing for ‘later’.
It all changed when we were introduced to an album of Cohen’s songs sung by Jennifer Warnes. Famous Blue Raincoat. I must have been about 14. And something in the new treatment of the songs, songs she’d heard before in the bad old times; the melody, the newness of fresh harmonies, the feminization of a deeply male voice, made my mother listen. And listen and listen again. It became one of our albums; a soundtrack to those years of our life together; a 3 girl choir singing at the tops of our voices while polishing the house on a Saturday morning. Maybe Mum washed herself clean in the singing. It is still one of my most exultant joyful albums. But I listen to Cohen too; I listen to the real stuff. I like the darkness, I am lured by the words. And he’s damn sexy. I’m not sure there’s many octagenarians who can make a shiver travel from your neck down down down to be lost in warmer parts with his voice; his last album You Want It Darker has a deeply erotic charge to it that transcends the finality; the work of a man who knows he’s not got long to say the rest of everything left in his expansive wonderful heart.
I suppose what I’m saying, though I’m not much good with the words or the clarity right now, is that times and songs of darkness can be filled with light and colour. We just need time and the determination to sing even when we are scared.